Men in kilts marched down the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to begin the Costume Institute Gala’s procession of celebrities. The kilts-like the exhibit the gala was to fete, and the clothes many attendees wore-were intended as tribute to the late Alexander McQueen, though early arrival Anna Wintour, in glittering purple striped Chanel, made her own choice. The arrival of the queen of fashion signals the beginning of the party; unspoken rules indicate that no guest should arrive before the co-host’s tiny form glides through. Ms. Wintour’s entrance raised audible cheers from a crowd of photographers and journalists already beginning to cramp up from standing-and a long night lay ahead. Ms. Wintour’s co-chair Colin Firth rushed past waiting shutterbugs and writers, pleading regally, “Sorry-it’s my duty!”
“I have worn Alexander McQueen,” remembered Sandra Lee. She’d arrived prior to Ms. Wintour, and wore creamy beaded Carmen Marc Valvo with curious sheer gloves. “I had a beautiful coat in white-I bought it in France, and when I got home I was like, Oh my God.” Ms. Lee’s ecru-on-ecru apartment, as photographed in Vogue, tipped us off that the lady loves white. “I do.”
Longtime McQueen friend Daphne Guinness looked a bit peaked as she staggered up the steps in monumental McQueen heels and a feathered dress designed by Sarah Burton (the McQueen designer known for dressing a certain Duchess). Who was she looking forward to meeting tonight? “I’m just-” she intoned, breathless, “happy to be here.”
After the light beige of Ms. Guinness and the cream of Ms. Lee, the pop of color Margherita Missoni provided was welcome-she arrived in a rainbow of rainbow knitwear. Our eyes popped even further upon seeing her pal Joy Bryant in a day-glo pink-and-orange sweater-over-gown. “Dear Joy is a friend of mine,” said Ms. Missoni, perhaps explaining Ms. Bryant’s fashion choice. “I always like to go to formal events with friends.” Why was Ms. Bryant in a sweater? “Because it’s comfortable!” the actress yelled. (Better reasoning, perhaps, than that of Gwyneth Paltrow, who told The Observer of her very backless, ultra-beige dress: “[Stella McCartney] just put me in it!”)
Kanye West stood guard at the door, though he was not a co-host, greeting all of the guests and reserving special excitement for Christopher Bailey, creative director of Burberry. Dakota and Elle Fanning stood nearby, the elder Ms. Fanning looking nervous, the younger looking utterly in her element.
A true rule-breaker followed, in modified menswear-Vogue Japan Editor-at-Large Anna Dello Russo, in a Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen black suit with gold accents. She wore a glittering ostrich egg as a hat. She recalled the McQueen days: “He had so much creativity-it was a romantic era to me.” Romantic, sure-but why the egg? “Eggs is because it is Easter time. Right after Easter, I chose eggs.”
There was a long lull after Anna. Taylor Swift spoke to a few TV cameras, but skittered away in the middle of an interview and ran inside. The actor Joshua Jackson may provide some insight as to what was so horrible about being interviewed-after his girlfriend, actress and muse Diane Kruger (in-mercy-gold and black), was interviewed, Mr. Jackson declared, “I love that their questions are McQueen, and the royal wedding. Those are the priorities.” Ms. Kruger and her other date, the designer Jason Wu, both laughed. Of course, a fashion crowd is a bit of an echo chamber: Barbara Walters, in luminous green Oscar de la Renta on the arm of Charlie Rose, told The Observer, “I don’t think I’ll discuss Osama bin Laden tonight. This is a celebration of a different sort.”
Karl Lagerfeld was not in the mood to celebrate. When we asked about his floral jacket, he replied: “Why not? Tom Ford made it floral. This is not a funeral. They had their time for that in London. This is about fashion.” But he must miss Alexander McQueen. “I don’t miss anyone. You are not there to cry about the past. You are there for the future. It’s cruel, but that’s the way it is.”
Suddenly, the evening had come down to its last few big stars-there was Rihanna! There was Renée Zellweger! (The former in black and the latter in gold.) Beyoncé was duly booed by photographers for blocking their angles, as she needed an assistant to help her walk in her tight, tight black-and-gold Pucci. The evening concluded, after the red carpet emptied out, with Madonna. Whether it was her starry presence or the unexpected sight, finally, of real color-a vibrant teal Stella McCartney with silver accents-we were moved to ask her why she chose it. “It matches my eyes!” she grinned.
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Edited by Daisy Prince